Why Your Headphone Choice Matters in the Studio

Dec 03, 2018

Quality headphones are essential for your home studio. Whether you’re tracking or mixing, you’ll be using them frequently. But how do you choose from the many models available, and what features and attributes make for good studio headphones? In this post, we’ll discuss some important aspects to consider.


Hearing the Truth

When you’re mixing in your studio, the accuracy of the sound you’re hearing is critical. That’s why studio monitors are designed to provide “flat” frequency response that doesn’t color the sound. You want similar results from your headphones. You’ll be making mixing decisions based on what you’re hearing, so accuracy is critical. For that reason alone, you don’t want to use consumer headphones in the studio. They’re designed to make everything sound as good as possible, often by hyping the low and high frequencies. While that might sound great when you’re listening to your favorite album, it’s a major obstacle in the studio.

Imagine this scenario: You’re mixing on consumer headphones that boost the bass frequencies unnaturally. Because you’re hearing the bass accentuated, you think the kick drum and bass guitar are louder in the mix than they actually are, so you don’t turn them up enough. The end result is a mix that’s lacking on the bottom. Similar problems can occur if the midrange or high end are artificially boosted.

You won’t have those issues if you mix with a quality pair of studio headphones, which will also be beneficial during tracking sessions. Why? Because an accurate frequency response is critical to judgments on mic choice, mic placement and input EQ settings.


Listening in Isolation

Studio headphones come in both closed-back and open-back models. The difference is that the former completely covers your ear, which gives it better isolation from outside sounds.

Isolation is essential when tracking for two reasons: First, you don’t want sound leaking out of your headphones and getting recorded by an open microphone. With open-backed headphones, this can easily happen, and frequently does. Click tracks are notorious for bleeding out of headphones and getting picked up by a mic. Reason number two is if you’re recording in a room with other musicians, you want to be isolated as much as possible from the sound of their instruments in the room. Otherwise, you’ll have trouble hearing the headphone mix.


Comfort and Durability

Another critical attribute of studio headphones is comfort. You often wear them for long periods of time, and you want them to fit snugly without causing irritation. You’ll probably be most comfortable and get maximum isolation if you choose headphones with soft earpads that conform to the shape of your ears, helping to seal them off from outside sounds.

During a session, headphones tend to get taken on and off frequently, and sometimes are accidentally dropped, kicked or otherwise manhandled. Because of that, durability is another important attribute. Detachable cables are handy because they can be replaced if broken without requiring that you bring your headphones in for repair.If you’re going to travel extensively with your headphones, you might want to consider getting a set that folds up for storage and has a case of some type. Those attributes will help your headphones last longer than if you just carried them loose in your backpack or suitcase.


Connections are Key

It’s handy to have headphones that offer a choice of connectors. While it’s true that most pro gear such as audio interfaces and monitor controllers use 1/4” jacks; devices such as laptops, mobile phones, tablets and video cameras generally feature 3.5mm connectors. If you want to be able to use your headphones in as many applications as possible, you’ll want to choose a pair that comes with a 3.5mm jack and a 1/4” adapter.


Dynamic Duo

As you can see, studio headphones have a unique set of requirements that can’t be met by consumer models. If you’re serious about music production, getting dedicated studio headphones, such as those in Mackie’s new MC Series, is as important as any of your other hardware choices.


The Mackie MC-250 provides accurate reproduction, excellent isolation, comfortable fit and versatile features.


The Mackie MC-150, with its closed-back design, makes an excellent tracking headphone and features Mackie’s legendary quality and durability.